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Day 3 of 16: Human Trafficking – a personal encounter

by Suzy Nguyen, AWC Berlin member

Pacific Links Foundation is a grassroots organization fighting against human trafficking of Vietnamese girls and women, one person at a time. It has been worthy of our family’s attention for over 5 years. The foundation was started by my husband’s friend from Harvard and that’s how we’ve come to know of it.

diep3_headshot_0Diep Vuong is not a gal who is merely the front woman sitting on a board, distancing herself from the action of the frontline. She and her team of 3 or 4 are on the frontline saving the girls as they escape their captors and their bondage at the Vietnam/China border. Pacific Links literally have a campsite, tents and all, at the northwest corner of Vietnam in a mountainous region near Sapa. If and when the young girls manage to make it over the border, her team is there with open arms to take them to safety, where their journey of mental, physical, emotional healing, and rehabilitation begins.

Their main supporters have been Diep’s friends, like us, who have donated money and events to bring awareness to her mission. The money she brings in is humble and she uses it well. Their most significant contributor, surprisingly, is the British Embassy in Vietnam. The British’s contribution was enough for Pacific Links to build a proper shelter in Sapa, nearby but away from their tents at the Vietnam/China border. This shelter houses the “residents” for as long as necessary to heal, to educate, and to teach them work skills to ready them for a life of independence, and hopefully, financial freedom.

For me, Pacific Links is exactly the cause that draws my compassion. I am from a family of 5 girls exclusively; no boys. For all of my life I’ve seen my mother’s struggles to empower my sisters and me, raising us in a culture that does not respect its females. I think back on whether she would have succeeded if all 5 of us never escaped Vietnam at the end of the war. We were 9, 5, 4, and newborn at that time. In desperate poverty, could she save us from the lure and blatant kidnapping in the hands of our “uncles” or other family members to be taken away to be child brides of some Chinese farmer or to be sex servants in sleazy Chinese brothels? Or whether my sisters and I would be educated or clever enough to walk away from a pair of plastic sandals as a trade to follow a stranger into their car?

For this reason, I teach my son about the plight of girls and women, first as a young boy when we sit around our kitchen table after Thanksgiving to decide which charitable organization deserves our attention for that year. Then as an 11 year old we travelled back to Vietnam for his first, but by no means, last trip there. I made sure we scheduled a special side trip to the northwest corner of Vietnam to visit the “residents” of Pacific Link.

On this side trip, Revel discovered that it was difficult to communicate with the residents. He knew they each have painful and heinous past so he could not speak to them of that. But how meaningful can an exchange be when all he can talk about was their vegetable garden? Then he remembered he has been keeping a travel journal chock full of sketches, Polaroid photos, funny anecdotes, so he set out to share it with them. Right there on the floor of the shelter, Revel took out his travel journal to share–to their amusement and delight. I translated his entries as best as I could. Then we remembered that people in the 3rd world seldom have an actual photo of themselves so we took photos of the girls to gift this to them. Our Polaroid printer worked overtime and luckily we had enough film on hand that day. One girl even mimed that she would like to have Revel in her photo!

On that visit to Pacific Links, we were able to witness first hand where our money went and we believe it is a truly creditable and noteworthy cause. http://www.pacificlinks.org/


  1. share this post
  2. Peruse Pacific Links website (look at their blog for personal stories of survivors and the impact page for metrics) and watch CNN’s report on sex trafficking in Vietnam
  3. consider supporting Pacific Links or similar grass roots organizations fighting human trafficking on the front line.

The AWC Berlin participates in the 16-Day-Campaign against Gender-Based-Violence.  Each day, we highlight an aspect of GBV to raise awareness and call on our membership to take one small action to fight against violence against women.

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